SEO vs SEM: the difference

SEO and SEM are two terms which I see used interchangeably but that actually have very different meanings. They are two sides of the same coin – but just like any coin, these sides are different.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process you go through in order to ensure your website/content pleases the search engine and allows it to serve up your content when a user is looking for it. Your goal here is to ensure that your website is turning up on the first page of the Google’s (or any other search engine) search results. There are lots of different elements you need to look at when optimising your website; it can be VERY overwhelming. From ensuring your website is structured in a way that makes it easy for Google to determine the classification and content of the page, to ensuring a quality back linking strategy and creating the type of content that it will deliver first to users that is key word heavy. Google will analyse all these factors, as well as the performance of your landing page, to determine its relevance to the what its user is searching. It’s definitely worth investing in an SEO consultant who can help set you up here.

Whilst traditionally the definition is related to websites alone, now there are search functions within many different platforms and so the principles can be applied throughout all that you do.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the tactic in which you pay per click (PPC) on ads which you create to drive traffic to your website. These are the ads which appear at the top of a search engine results page, marked with “ad”, that you decide the headings, text, links, landing page, etc, for. You choose which key words your ads will run against, how closely they need to match and what KPI you’d like to optimise towards. PPC/SEM ads are paid for via an auction/bidding mechanism: you set your maximum bids, time frames, budgets etc and then this information is combined with the quality score of your ads. The quality score of your ad is determined through a number of factors such as quality of landing page (content & load time), relevance of headlines/copy and additional features such as site-links or review features.

So what’s the link?

Well, ensuring you have a solid SEO strategy in place can actually complement your SEM strategy. For example, a high quality landing page with strong organically driven traffic is more likely to achieve a higher quality score – which can then help your paid ad appear higher up the ranking, without paying more.

If you’re getting to grips with marketing and starting to work out how to build a plan for your business, it’s really important to understand the difference and the value each can add. Our recommendation is to first focus on SEO, even if that means investing a little more upfront in an SEO specialist to get your website up and running.

Not sure how to get started? We offer a Brand & SEO package which combines a workshop on developing your online brand and working with our SEO specialist to build out a custom strategy & support plan. Fill in the form below to find out more.